How one mobile startup looks to help you avoid waiting in line

PayDragon has a different approach to mobile payment: focus on eliminating lines, as opposed to improving the payment experience.

LOS ANGELES -- Like most people, I hate waiting in line.

But with all the advances in technology, we haven't really been able to get rid of the old-fashioned queue. From fun roller coasters to mundane drug stores, I often find myself wasting time standing in line. And it bugs me to no end.

So it was music to my ears when I heard that mobile startup PayDragon had a novel approach to mobile payments: one that focused on getting people out of lines and directly to their products.

In this case, PayDragon has worked with a few food trucks and merchants to speed up the ordering and pickup process. I ran through the process, and it's pretty dead simple -- and a core focus of CEO Hamilton Chan.

When you run the app, it brings up a number of nearby restaurants or food trucks (as well as a few not-so-nearby locations too). You choose one and there's a simplified menu of roughly six items. You pick the one you want, and the app charges your credit card. When the order is ready, you get a notification with directions to the merchant for pickup. Customers can go straight to the counter or food truck, state their name and order number, and get their food.

Merchants, meanwhile, only need access to a browser to get a dashboard of incoming orders, which are listed chronologically to ensure they get completed in a timely manner.

"It's a low-fuss experience," Chan told me. "This app stays true to the principle of keeping things simple."

That simplicity is evident throughout the app, and part of why it works so well. Chan said that the company insists on paring down the menu to just a few of the most popular items. Also, there's no option to customize or alter the order.

The Spartan mentality may not appeal to everyone, something Chan acknowledges, but it will appeal to people who are in a rush and don't mind sacrificing options for speed and saved time.

"What is great is that people are on the go and looking to save time wherever possible," he said. He added that merchants appreciate the focus on a bare menu, because it saves them time.

PayDragon is starting small to ensure a good experience for consumers. The company has four merchant partners in Austin, Texas, which were involved in a trial that drew some buzz during the SXSW show. It has 11 merchant partners in Los Angeles, including cream puff chain Beard Papa.

This week, it will begin working with Murray's Cheese in New York. Murray's Cheese will have several posters with QR codes near the subway station near its store. Customers who want to order a sandwich can scan the QR code, which brings up the app and allows for a quick order.

The ability to work with food trucks is nice, as PayDragon is privy to their scheduled location, allowing consumers to find out where the trucks are at any given time.

PayDragon is available on iOS or Android. Chan said he was considering Windows Phone as an option down the line.

PayDragon makes money by taking an undisclosed cut of each transaction, which also covers the credit card transaction fees. Chan said merchants were pleasantly surprised by how competitive the fee was in regard to other payment options.

PayDragon is just one of many companies trying to get its foot into the mobile-payment business, or the ability to use the smartphone to pay for goods and services. Large companies such as Google, PayPal, and the wireless carriers are building out massive networks of partners, which use the phone for a tap-and-pay experience. Smaller private companies such as Square are looking to use the iPad or iPhone as a more flexible point-of-sale terminal.

I've written about LevelUp , which uses QR codes and smartphones as a replacement for scanners and cash registers.

Chan believes PayDragon is benefiting from the increased awareness of mobile-payment options and is piggybacking off that. But he doesn't believe he's in direct competition with these companies. Many of them are focused on the act of payment and the point of sale; PayDragon is more about quickly ordering the food and bypassing the lines.

Other merchants, of course, have done this. Chipotle, for instance, has its own app, allowing you to skip its famously long lunch lines and pick up your burrito. But PayDragon offers smaller merchants and food trucks the ability to offer these capabilities without investing in their own app.

Beyond food, Chan sees opportunity in expanding to different facets of retail. He envisions a consumer looking at an advertisement for a dress, scanning the attached QR code, and ordering that dress from her phone through PayDragon.

"Brick-and-mortar stores know they are under attack," Chan said. "They are looking for ways to stay relevant, which is good fodder for startups looking to innovate."

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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